Classroom Technology

New Campaign to Pressure Silicon Valley on ‘Tech Addiction’ and Kids

By Benjamin Herold — February 07, 2018 2 min read
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A new coalition of advocates and disillusioned tech-industry insiders have launched a campaign to pressure companies such as Facebook and Google to make their products “less intrusive and less addictive” for children.

The “Truth About Tech” effort is being led by Common Sense Media and the newly formed Center for Humane Technology.

“Tech companies are conducting a massive, real-time experiment on our kids, and, at present, no one is really holding them accountable,” Common Sense CEO James P. Steyer said in a statement. “Their business models often encourage them to do whatever they can to grab attention and data, and then to worry about the consequences later.”

A new “Road Map for Kids’ Digital Well-Being,” released Wednesday, lists numerous “human costs” from technology’s “overwhelming presence” in children’s lives, including digital addiction and distraction, attention disorders, and cognitive impairment.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are fragmenting children into “echo chambers,” “eroding teens’ self-worth,” and redefining how children measure friendship, the document contends.

Scientists are split over whether “technology addiction” is a legitimate clinical condition, or merely a catchy term used to describe a wide range of troubling and uncomfortable behaviors and habits. (For background on the debate, see this excellent round up from NPR’s Anya Kamenetz, the author of “The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.”)

But the new campaign comes at an unquestionably fraught moment for Silicon Valley.

In the past month alone, prominent investors have called on Apple to examine its products’ health effects on children. A group of advocacy organizations and clinicians have called on Facebook to pull its new Messenger Kids app from the market. YouTube (now a subsidiary of Google) has come under fire for questionable content on its YouTube Kids app.

And increasingly, the anti-tech backlash includes prominent voices from the tech industry itself.

The new Center for Humane Technology, for example, includes former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, former Facebook investor and advisor Roger McNamee, and a host of other Silicon Valley insiders.

The new campaign will focus on identifying risks associated with technology use by children, including via new research; efforts to limit any such damage, primarily by engaging people and companies in the technology industry in adopting new design standards; and a policy-advocacy and public-awareness campaign.

The “Truth About Tech” effort is being funded primarily via a $7 million contribution from Common Sense Media, the New York Times reported.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.